Why Should You Let Your Wine ‘Breathe’ Before Drinking It?

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Both novice wine enthusiasts who’ve just entered a brand-new world of sophisticated flavors and aromas and the most seasoned connoisseurs equally enjoy techniques that enhance the tasting experience.

Wine is complex, and there’s a litany of nuances that go into enjoying each bottle to its fullest, including the act of letting wine ‘breathe.’  Likewise goes for the fact that you will want to store your wine at an ideal temperature to help its flavors mature over time. For more information on cooling wine, read our guide for the best wine fridges.

Let’s take a deep dive and examine the ‘breathing’ process and look at why it elevates wine drinking to a whole new level.

What Does it Mean to Let a Wine ‘Breathe?’

The notion of allowing a wine to breathe does seem a little odd before delving into the topic. It’s not like wine has a heartbeat. However, a bottle of wine is ‘alive,’ given it experiences continual chemical reactions. Though the term ‘breathing’ – when it comes to wine – stems from the imagination and passion of wine lovers. These individuals are drawn to the idea of giving life to some they care about so deeply.

‘Breathing’ begins the moment the cork is popped. Many wines benefit significantly from an exposure to air for a given amount of time (depending on the bottle) before serving. The science behind letting wine breathe is centered around the oxidization process, and how it removes the harshness from flavors and releases rich, deeply layered aromas.

One helpful analogy when explaining the breathing process is likening it to the ‘warmup’ before a workout. It’s a way for the wine to ‘stretch it’s legs’ so that it tastes less rigid and stiff.

A more technical term for a wine that’s breathing is aeration.

Though, it’s worth noting that just leaving wine in the bottle limits its oxygen exposure to approximately the surface area of a small coin. So, most wine experts pour a glass and swirl to build the flavors and aromas further.

Still, the process can go even further. The most seasoned oenophiles utilize a decanter, which is any vessel (besides the original bottle) containing the contents of the wine. Generally, decanters have broad bottoms and are made of glass or crystal.

What Wines Are Best After Breathing?

Young red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Zinfandels, Bordeaux, and several wines from the Rhône Valley are high in tannin. As such, aeration is ideal for these wines because it softens the tannins and pleasantly dulls the sharper, jagged flavors. These kinds of reds aren’t yet 8 years old and require 1-2 hours of aeration. Click here for more information and our review about the best aerator and decanter.

More mature red wines only need around 30 minutes of breathing because the flavors are far mellower and not as stark.

Very old reds, along with wines lacking a delicate bouquet such as white wine, rose, champagne, and sparkling wines, require no aeration.

Tidbits About Decanters

In the case where a decanter is used, here’s a step-by-step process of how it’s done:

  1. Ensure the bottle is stood upright
  2. Wait until the sediment falls to the bottom of the bottle before removing from the upright position
  3. While the ideal timeline is two days, as little as thirty minutes goes a long way
  4. When taking out the cork, don’t disturb the sediment
  5. Take the light of a candle or flashlight and focus it beneath the neck of the bottle
  6. Gradually pour the wine in a steady stream into the decanter
  7. Don’t pour anymore once the sediment is visible
  8. If the tannin taste is too strong, pour the wine back and forth between two vessels a few times.

Aerating, breathing, and decanting all require a delicate balance to be executed effectively. Overexposing wine to air might lead to vinegary odors and states. Though red and sweet wines tend to last longer because of their natural preservatives and sugars.

Conclusion: Some Wines Need to Take a Deep Breath

Nope. Breathing isn’t just something that makes it so humans can live. It’s also something that allows wine drinkers to extract the most flavor and aromas from each bottle.